Pain Vs. Suffering in Labor

Here is Penny Simkin lending us some great insight on pain vs. suffering in labor. What do you think about her points? Anything you disagree with? Agree with wholeheartedly? Enjoy.


2 responses to this post.

  1. I do not understand how not feeling pain would make childbirth any less joyful. Maybe it makes you groggy? I am interested to know how medication would affect hormones in a woman. I think it is important to point out that woman who use medication in childbirth still go through a lot of pain and drugs don’t always work when they need to.10 lb babies run in my family and though I like the idea of doing a lot of things as naturally as possible, I am pretty sure I will be asking for some relief from child birthing pain.


  2. Thanks for your comment, Bethany! Those are good questions. IV narcotics do make you groggy (and the baby too), so that can affect the early bonding moments if it’s still in your system. Epidurals don’t give the same groggy feeling, though they have quite a host of side effects that come with them. ( However, I think that Penny Simkin was probably referring more to the hormonal balance that goes on during birth. Here is a helpful articles on the topic.
    Hormones during labor:
    One common problem that I have heard particularly is with the epidural- it interferes with a woman’s production of oxytocin (the hormone that causes contractions and helps labor to progress- it’s also the same hormone produced in breastfeeding, in orgasm, and in bonding- it’s known as the “love hormone.”). Since the epidural supresses oxytocin, the woman’s labor often slows down, and it can indeed interfere with the early bonding period- I’ve heard of more than one woman on an epidural who felt surprised that immediately after birth they felt nothing, rather than the ecstasy they expected. However, that’s not to say that it always will interfere, or that you won’t be happy to see your baby! Many women don’t seem to have a problem with experiencing joy, even after an epidural. I suspect your own make-up and reactions to external interferences with your system affects whether or not it would be a problem.
    Another problem with epidurals is that they interfere with your body’s production of endorphins- your own natural pain killers. As you labor, your body will continue to produce endorphins gradually as labor progresses and gets stronger. When you have an epidural, it can, in effect, cancel out your body’s endorphin production. If/when an epidural wears out, or your contractions “break through” the pain relief level of the epidural, it often comes as a total shock to the mother’s system because she hasn’t been producing those endorphins. I’ve heard it related that having an epidural that wore off for pushing actually hurts way more than if you had never had the epidural at all. (And you usually need to feel to push well, at least a little bit, so you don’t want to be completely numbed at that point.)
    Anyway, all that is not to say that pain relief is all bad or evil, or to try to scare you out of it. I just hope to have helped answer your question some. I definitely, definitely think there are times that it is needed and useful, and I have supported mothers in epidural use before. I do think that it’s overused in our country though. Mothers often expect to feel nothing, but the problem is that there is no pain relief that is 100% safe. Every intervention you accept in labor is a trade off. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t be used, but that the pros and cons must be weighed.
    As far as “how much does labor hurt?” There are SO many factors to consider. Is the mother relaxed? Is she willing to work with her body? How does she labor- slowly or quickly? Is she moving around or lying still? Is she fighting the contractions or breathing into them? Is she on Pitocin (which makes it hurt so much more!!)? Are there people bullying her or frightening her? Does she have a good, knowledgeable support person in place who can help her through labor?
    I’ve heard everything from “hurt like hell” to “good hard work” to”painless” to “orgasmic” to describe birth. My son was 9 lbs, 4 oz, born totally naturally, and the first thing I told my family was, “What’s everybody talking about? That wasn’t that bad at all!” But that may not be my experience every time! It’s so different for everyone, and the fact that I did it naturally doesn’t make me any better or worse than any other mom.
    Okay, I know this is a REALLY long answer. Here’s the bottom line. There’s no right or wrong philosophy on how to approach childbirth pain relief, as long as you research it early on (not while you’re in labor! :)). Research everything as much as you can beforehand, make a plan, and be prepared to be flexible. Then you can be at peace with whatever you decide! 🙂


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